The Collaboration, Philosophy, and Process Behind ‘Give Thanks’

Ohbliv explains the value of building bridges in your artistic community, rejecting traditional song structure, and the meaning behind his recent Fat Beats LP.

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The Collaboration, Philosophy, and Process Behind ‘Give Thanks’

Dig into Richmond, Virginia native Ohbliv’s old tweets and you’ll see him using the phrase “give thanks” as far back as 2010, long before the release of his May 2019 album with the same name.

So where exactly does the saying come from and what’s the significance? “It’s something that resonated with me a couple of years ago,” says the veteran sample chopper. “Just learning gratitude and being grateful for everything, the good and the bad. It’s something I’ve started to tweet to remind people—if you’re alive reading that tweet, give thanks.”

As for the decision to title his new Fat Beats release Give ThanksOhbliv wanted to demonstrate his appreciation for the important people in his life after a decade in the game. “It’s coming up on ten years since my first official release,” he says. “So it just seemed fitting that I show some formal thanks. If you get the record you’ll see in the liner notes I tried to list every person that's had a positive effect on my life.”

During the making of his latest offering, Ohbliv leaned on the same tools of production he has used for much of his professional career—flexing a Roland SP-4O4, PT01 turntable, and his record collection to sample and arrange beats while incorporating a digi-recorder to capture his compositions.

More important than the equipment, however, is the energy of the music, which influences both the creative process and the final product. “Emotions have a long range, and I create from an emotional space,” Ohbliv wrote in an August 2018 tweet while describing his philosophy as a producer. “I’ve had out of body experiences chopping and putting together samples.”

These out of body experiences where sample chopping and beat construction seem to happen almost automatically have occurred with greater frequency and ease over time thanks to many years of hard work and practice. “It’s becoming a more regular thing just through all the time I’ve put in,” Ohbliv says. “Its made it easier for me to access that.”

On the album cut “Tweeterz,” listeners will hear Ohbliv accessing an addictive, head-nodding loop and vocal samples to form an expertly crafted beat. Add in the microphone prowess of fellow Mutant Academy members fly anakin. and Henny L.O., and the end result in an epic Richmond collaboration. According to Ohbliv, the track was an unexpected blessing born out of an informal session where he previewed Give Thanks for the two MCs. “They heard that one, and it was going to be a purely instrumental album, but they fell in love with it,” he says.

After giving fly anakin. and Henny L.O. his blessing to rock over the beat, they sent back a finished song a few days later.

Discussing “Tweeterz” brings up an interesting aside—the story of Ohbliv and fly anakin.’s initial connection. It’s a refreshing tale for the modern internet era, one that demonstrates how the right approach can prevent a potentially negative relationship with other artists and instead create a positive one.

Ohbliv first discovered Anakin and one-time Mutant Academy member koncept jack$son when he heard them on SoundCloud rapping over his instrumentals without permission, a common strategy for hungry up-and-coming MCs who don’t have a budget for Ohbliv-level beats. Realizing that they were Richmond residents, he decided to reach out directly to discuss the situation. “I was like, ‘Y’all are around the way, there’s no reason why you gotta use this joint without hitting me up,’” Ohbliv says.

In addition to firmly but politely addressing the SoundCloud tracks, Ohbliv made sure to indicate that he was open to future collaborations. Having heard their respective skills on the mic, he felt like a creative partnership could be mutually beneficial. He has since produced several cuts for both rappers—including the full-length 2018 anakin. and Ohbliv collaboration Backyard Boogie. “I’m glad that I took that approach because it definitely spawned one of the more creative relationships I’ve had in a while,” he says. “We got a lot in common. He’s kind of like a younger brother.”

“Tweeterz” also showcases a music-making philosophy that Ohbliv shares with the Mutant Academy MCs featured on the track—a willingness to skirt traditional song structure in favor of doing what feels right. According to him, this a very deliberate strategy. “I’ve made a point to break tradition with my compositions and arrangements,” he says. “Of course, I have things that are pretty standard, but I definitely came into this with the intent to change people’s mind about what is considered a song and an arrangement.”

Interestingly, Ohbliv points to Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band’s Frank Zappa-produced Trout Mask Replica as a major influence for his personal philosophy. Though people may find the somewhat forgotten late-60s LP borderline unlistenable because of its complete lack of coherence, he admires the way all involved parties took the rules of music and threw them out the window while recording the album.

Likewise, on the Give Thanks track “Overcast,” listeners will hear Ohbliv side-stepping musical restrictions and trying to make the beat as busy as possible without losing the thread of coherence. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, but a challenge he also embraces. “That track, in particular, was a bit of an experiment with playing with the samples,” he says. “It is a fine line between adding too much and becoming chaos and keeping what’s necessary. That one I feel like I was toeing the line a little bit, but it ended up working.”

Songs like the album’s closer “Kontrol Your Heart” carry a more sentimental and straightforward meaning due to the original sound source. The tune is a tribute to Ohbliv’s mother, whose image is featured on the album’s cover. “The song I sampled it from is a song that my mom used to like before she passed,” Ohbliv says. “It’s one of those songs that I always kind of listened to and had in my mind, so I just decided to make something with it. Listening to the joint I was like, ‘This is the closer right here.’”

Picking such a perfect emotional note to end the album on comes from the careful attention Ohbliv pays to flow and sequence of every project. Though he still loves the process of making music, after a decade in the game, sequencing projects might be the most fun part of the job. Citing his involvement in theatre and improve during his younger years, he tries to provide listeners with an auditory story experience on every album. “I’ve learned about screenwriting and screenplays, I know story arc,” he says. “So I try to do that in music form, try to create a story arc with foreshadowing, climax, resolution and all of that stuff. That’s something that I strive for.”

Once he completed the music for Give Thanks, Ohbliv reached out to another Richmond MC and visual artist named Young Flexico for help with the cover design. Wanting to give the artist space to create his own vision, he provided him with the album title and music—nothing else. To his surprise, the artist dug up an old picture of Ohbliv’s mom on Facebook that perfectly encapsulated the vibes on the album. Bringing the powerful imagery together, Flexico’s incorporated an evocative blend of colors while his wife wrote Ohbliv’s name and album title by hand. Such a strong connection on their first joint effort helped cement an artistic bond between the two men. “Getting him to do that sparked our creative relationship and kind of solidified it even more from what it was before,” Ohbliv says. “When I gave him the title and sent him the record, he told me the picture felt like what the album sounded like.”

Now, with Give Thanks wrapped and released, Ohbliv concedes that there is a bit more pressure with having a project out on Fat Beats vs. dropping a self-released project on Bandcamp. “The music’s cool and stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s gotta do its numbers too,” he says. “That’s the infinite struggle—the art of commerce.”

At that same time, he wants to focus on the positive of working with a storied imprint and being able to reflect on a fruitful ten years as a producer. Collaborating with Fat Beats on a record he put so much care into is extremely gratifying. Such an accomplishment would have seemed unattainable when he first started out.

When he stops to think about it all, Ohbliv can’t help but give thanks.

(This article is a modified and updated version of a story that was originally published on Micro-Chop.)

Thanks for reading, see you on Friday!